Lead prices are expected to surge next year following an expected slowdown in China's production of the metal, which is used mainly in the manufacture of batteries. Stocks were equal to only five weeks' consumption, regarded as much 'lower than desirable', and Chinese exports were forecast to slow even further, analysts Karen Norton and Angus MacMillan of Billiton Metals said. 'Should these exports fail to pick up again, this market has the potential to tighten considerably,' they said. 'Our expectation is that prices will peak in the first half of the year', rising to US$792.50 a tonne. On Tuesday, London Metal Exchange lead was at $732 a tonne. The International Lead and Zinc Study Group, a London-based inter-governmental body, said China supplied about 66 per cent of global refined lead imports last year. 'Net exports from the West to eastern countries, and in particular from China, are expected to show a significant increase over 1995. However, demand is forecast to exceed supply in the Western world . . . for the second year in succession.'